Unafraid to Offend…
I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons. 1) I haven’t forgotten about my blog. 2) I haven’t died. 3) This is a topic that is becoming increasingly important to me over the recent months. In a world of Westboro Baptist Church and Joel Osteen, it seems that there are some opinions running around about how a Christian should carry themselves in relation to the message they have for the world. I’m going to talk about this a bit in this post.
I know it may be hard for some people to believe, but I have a bit of a history with offending people. Okay, it may not be hard to believe, but it bears saying anyway. It hasn’t always been my fault, but it has been enough of the time that I like to think I have “some” wisdom about how and when the proper time is to be offensive. I’m going to start by asking the question that should come up when we are presented with an opportunity to interact with the world: “To offend, or not to offend?”
First off, there are very few times in the Bible where one of the main protagonists (good guys, for those of you who aren’t into technical language) specifically avoided being offensive. Jesus seems to have almost made a point TO offend the people who were hanging around to see who would actually stay. Prime example, John 6:24-71.
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven–not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”– John 6:52-67
Now, there is a lot to be said of this passage. Sure, we “understand” that Jesus was talking spiritually here, but the original audience clearly did not. Before getting too anxious to declare “Ahhhh, those silly Jews…” I think we need to stop and ask ourselves if we are giving ourselves to much credit. If a man that I respect as a purveyor of truth says that I need to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life, I’m going to think that he wants me to eat his flesh and drink his blood. In fact, I would wager that since the church’s attempts to explain away the offense of this verse have ended in muddled and slightly mystical doctrines that the Bible doesn’t clarify, we have actually done ourselves a disservice. But that is just me.
Another great example of not being afraid to offend would be that of St. Stephen in Acts 7. I can almost guarantee you that Stephen did not wake up that day and plan to get himself killed. However, when he was placed before the Sanhedrin and accused of preaching Christ, he gives this logical and extremely well-formed sermon about both Israel’s history of denying God and their persecution of those who have been messengers. Had Stephen softened his words that day, it is arguable that he would not have been killed. Had Stephen softened his words that day, the members of the Sanhedrin would not have been “cut to the heart”.
Example number 3: Apostle Paul. If you have read the letters to the Corinthians and not been offended at the flagrant use of sarcasm and scathing critiques of the Corinthian lifestyle, I dare say you need to try reading them again and take them personally. Paul, however, had a point to being offensive… namely, he was trying to shake a church out of compromise in sexual immorality and doctrine. The unifying factor in all three of these examples is that they had a point to being offensive.
TO NOT OFFEND
“So how does this square with the sermon on the mount?!” “What about being gentle as doves?!” “Shouldn’t we be ‘fishers’ of men?!”
These are all great questions and thoroughly valuable to consider. The problem is that none of them excuse us from preaching the truth. While the sermons in Acts change their overall velocity in preaching the Gospel, they are all preaching the truth that men everywhere need to repent and be saved. The thing to notice is that none of the men who offended other people in Gospel did so without a point. There is no eternal value inherent in standing on a street corner holding a sign that declares that “God hates fags!” because there is no point to it. We have gone from exposing an overwhelming problem to condemning without mercy. Yes, Jesus offended his audiences on a regular basis. However, when Bartimaeus and the Centurion come to him asking for mercy, he does not call them grubbing heathens. When Mary is weeping at the feet of Jesus because her brother has died, Jesus does not stop her saying, “You silly woman, he is going to live again…” Jesus wept with her.
John 11:35 is quite possibly the single most powerful ministry moment in the entire Bible. Beyond the miracles, the sermons, the salvations and martyrs… God wept with a woman because she loved her brother.
So, in answering the question of whether we should offend our audience or not, I have to give a “caveat-laden” answer. A) What is the point? B) Are you sure that is the proper response to the situation? C) Are you about to give the entire body of Christ a black eye? If you don’t have an answer to two of those three questions, skip it.
That being said… don’t be surprised if my next couple of posts are offensive.